Goth is a serious business. At its most embryonic, it took glam rock and filtered it through punk, capitalising on its nihilistic grandeur and shadowy bombast. Reluctant “gothfather” and blank cassette tape salesman Pete Murphy of Bauhaus pretty much forged a career by creating a gloomier David Bowie tribute act, while Roxy Music cast a long art-rock aesthetic shadow on goth’s style and sensibility. Adherents of the genre escalated the glam look with pretentious Renaissance-inspired excess, albeit in stark monochrome.
Yeah, goth is a serious business alright. So it makes things all the more extraordinary when those bands bravely venture outside the confines of their misery-rock template to take on the pop world.
But what are the burnished gems amongst the extensive catalogue where morbid misanthropy meets the toppermost of the poppermost? Join us now, as we venture into the surreal hinterland of the goth-pop paradox.
The Sisters Of Mercy – Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) (live) (Abba)
Andrew Eldritch quickly cottoned onto the deep irony of cheesy pop reinterpreted with the grandiose, bombastic arrangements of goth at its most imperious. While Laughing Andy and his band delivered a truly dark reinvention of Hot Chocolate's tragic ballad Emma and a menacing take on The Stones' Gimme Shelter, they eventually went fully sardonic with this live remake of Abba’s disco classic. They’ve done much worse though, as we will soon discover...
Paradise Lost – Small Town Boy (Bronski Beat)
However much Jimmy Somerville's falsetto may get on your tits, along with West End Girls by the Pet Shops Boys and The Sun Always Shines On TV by A-ha, this Bronski Beat track is a perfect example of classic 80s pop with a dark underbelly. Recognising how the song's theme of alienation can be applied to followers of gothic, metal and punk subcultures as well as sexuality, PL's appropriately anguished treatment emphasises the track's supremely melancholic tone. The original Bronski version perfectly captured the early 80s zeitgeist of gay teens escaping the bigotry and insular confines of their small-town England existence for a new life of discovery in the city amongst a like-minded milieu. An enduring motif of late adolescence.
Fields Of The Nephilim – In Every Dream Home A Heartache (Roxy Music)
People who have too much time on their hands and spend their lives analysing rock music of the 70s claim that rather than a sinister ode to sex with a blow-up doll, Roxy Music's original track is a metaphor for the numbing emptiness wrought by the commodification of modern life – which admittedly chimes with FOTN’s throwback vibe, both music and spirituality. Released as a b-side to 1987’s Blue Water, this cover slows the original to a glacial tempo so that the eventual dramatic crescendo – at just under four minutes of the six-minute duration – incurs maximum impact. They like to make a dramatic impact, The Neffs. As you will know if you ever waited endlessly for them to arrive on stage in the 80s.
The Cure – Do You Wanna Touch (live from 1985) (Gary Glitter)
According to legend, this was also a live favourite for Bauhaus, and The Sisters once also cited Glitter as an influence. But hearing cuddly Robert Smith bawl out the Bacofoil-wrapped big-booted 70s party fave during The Cure’s Head On The Door tour nowadays induces something between panic and discomfort. However much you try to separate the music from the artist, with someone as despicable as convicted paedophile Paul ‘Gary Glitter’ Gadd, it hasn’t aged well.
Like their peers, The Cure’s glam influences are manifold, and less surprisingly than Glitter, they’ve also covered Bowie’s Young Americans (erstwhile Bowie band/Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels became a permanent member of The Cure in 2012), not to mention Faith Healer by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Outside of glam, a minimalist reworking of Hendrix’s Foxy Lady appeared on their debut album Three Imaginary Boys and Purple Haze was brilliantly re-imagined for the 1993 various artists album Stone Free: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix.
Bauhaus – Telegram Sam (T-Rex)
Their blistering cover of Brian Eno’s Third Uncle (from the electro wizard’s post-Roxy Music second solo album) was wondrous. But this earlier cover remakes Marc Bolan’s glamtastic glitter-dripping hippy-tinged track into a macabre teeth-grinding amphetamine-fuelled two-minute aural mugging. Released as the fourth Bauhaus single in 1980 – just eight years after the T.Rex original – they made it their own with the trademark Bauhaus sound: Daniel Ash’s feedback-echoing guitar, David J’s spidery bass fretwork and Kevin Haskin’s cold and clinical skittering percussion. It grafts glam onto goth like a sonic experiment during an after-hours piss-up on the island of Dr Moreau.
The Sisters Of Mercy – Jolene (Dolly Parton)
Jolene's blues-alike subject and its despairing lyrics aren’t too far removed from the Romantic era poets who influenced goth lyricists. Dolly herself said Jolene was a true story, based on someone who flirted with her husband when they were newlyweds, which is why she didn’t like to sing it too often. The Sisters recorded it in their early years – around 1983 – as a demo. They later returned to wholesome morality when they inexplicably chose to perform 1980s school assembly standard and favourite of happy-clappy RE teachers, He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands as an encore during their headline slot at Reading 1991. A medley with The Stooges’ 1969 that also confusingly includes a furiously shouted excerpt of Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.
Siouxsie & The Banshees – Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)
The original version of this track was perhaps the single greatest protest song of the 20th century and it’s the subject of a highly anticipated forthcoming movie. Siouxsie And The Banshees’ cover of Billie Holiday’s stunning 1939 single is respectful while building on Abel Meeropol’s period songwriting. The gorgeous arrangement foregrounds strings, but overall, it’s redolent of a New Orleans funeral accompaniment. Siouxsie’s own singing style has always maintained a jazz-inflected influence and she imposes her vocals with grace. A fantastic clarity of production by Mike Hedges, it’s from the band’s 1987 covers album Through the Looking Glass. The same album’s similarly impressive covers of This Wheel’s On Fire (composed by Dylan/Danko, but popularised by Julie Driscoll) and Iggy Pop’s The Passenger were hit singles for the band (as was their earlier cover of The Beatles Dear Prudence), but Strange Fruit is a true labour of love.
The Mission – Atomic (Blondie)
Atomic was a 1980 hit for Blondie when they were at the top of their game. Pin-up looks and a beauty worthy of a supermodel belie an enduringly influential pop style with a unique vocal talent. But enough about Wayne Hussey. The Mish covered Atomic in its literal sense with an apocalyptic slant. Fun fact: in 1990 they added to the ongoing goth-covers-glam theme with ‘anonymous’ side project The Metal Gurus (basically The Mission dressed up as 70s glamsters) with their version of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody.
Fields Of The Nephilim – In The Year 2525 (Zager & Evans)
Who on earth were Zager & Evans? You may well ask. Looking like refugees from one of those awful US 50s sitcoms, crooners Denny ’n’ Rick were one-hit wonders with this 1969 pop smash. Supposedly a cautionary tale of technological innovation (so just like Stephen Hawking’s warning of full AI development, then), and appropriately recorded in a Texan cow pasture, dedicated futurists Z&E prophesized the bible’s Judgement Day as far into the future as 8510 – which no doubt upset fundamental Christians everywhere. Fortunately for us, music tech developed faster than the lads could have ever predicted, meaning that their paso doble nonsense was rapidly consigned to the dustbin of history. Only for FOTN to do us the disservice of reviving it in 2005. Yeah, cheers.
Ghost Dance – Can The Can (Suzi Quatro)
If Joan Jett ever goes goth (and god willing, one day she will), this is what it will sound like. When Sisters co-founder Gary Marx quit The Court of Eldritch in 1985, he formed the short-lived Ghost Dance with Anne-Marie Hurst of the Skeletal Family (behold their cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me). Notable for its lack of original compositions, their debut 11-track album Gathering Dust included no less than four covers: Can The Can by Leather Tuscadero herself, Roxy Music’s Both Ends Burning, the Yardbirds’ Heart Full of Soul, and radio drivetime DJ fave, Golden Earring’s Radar Love. [That’s quite enough random goth covers, thank you very much – Ed]. WAIT! We haven’t mentioned Rosetta Stone’s cover of Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend yet! And The Sisters cover of Kylie’s Confide In Me! And not to mention… [edited for everyone’s sake].